Watchmen (2009)

Starring: Jackie Earle Hayley, Malin Ackerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Billy Crudup, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Goode

Directed by: Zack Snyder

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Patrick Wilson as vigilante Night Owl in Watchmen

It's 1985, but not as we know it. The long, grey shadow of the Cold War lingers still and shoulder pads are wide, but America has conquered the Vietnamese and Richard Nixon has been president for, like, ever. Meanwhile, two generations of masked vigilantes, the Minutemen and Watchmen, have stalked the streets since the 1940s, fighting crime in a no holds barred manner that simply wouldn't wash in today's litigious culture.

But now someone is gunning for the Masks, and first to cop it is beefy wideboy the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), thrown through the window of his high rise apartment. Who'll be next? Sharp-suited billionaire business man Ozymandias, the alter ego of Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), the most intelligent man on the planet? Mild-mannered Night Owl, aka Daniel Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson), who  looks more like a cardiganed geography teacher than a crime fighter? Or maybe the foxy, latex clad Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman), otherwise known as the Silk Spectre?

Our self-styled superheroes have hung up their capes and tights long ago – all except for Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a huge, blue, shimmering superhuman who acquired godlike powers through a botched scientific experiment (as you do) and doesn't have an outfit to hang up, and our stubborn antihero Rorshach (Jackie Earle Haley), so named for the ever-shifting blots on his mask, who persists in stomping the streets like a sociopathic Flash Harry in his raincoat and fedora, determined to solve the mystery of his comic colleague's death.

Jackie Earle Haley as Rorshach in WatchmenAnd as he croaks out his gumshoe voiceover, it's as if the book on which the film is based has come to life. Rorshach is by far the most striking, appealing and memorable character in Alan Moore's seminal graphic novel, and it's Rorshach that makes the film come alive too, his two-dimensional compadres paling into insignificance besides his dogged, menacing but strangely lovable psychosis. I've waited twenty years to see him up on the big screen, and I wasn't disappointed.

Okay, so I do have a few gripes with the film as a whole (like why male directors insist on dressing female superheroes in sky high stilettos when it's clear that stuntwomen can only fight in flats). The comic book dialogue occasionally sounds ropey as hell when voiced out loud, and it all gets a bit ridiculous towards the end. But on the whole, Watchmen is a stylish, gritty and gripping adaptation that doesn't need to try too hard to be cool (so easy on the slo-mo and jump cutting, which makes a pleasant change) and isn't afraid to send itself up every so often.

Yes, it's violent, yes, it's sexist and yes, it is a bit too long. But hell, it's Rorshach larger than life – and for that alone I'll jump for joy in high heels – as long as I can always land wearing flats…

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